Adaptogens have become a buzzword in health and wellness circles over recent years, but the truth of it, is that they’ve been around for centuries and are ubiquitous in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines.

Adaptogens are herbs, roots, and other plant substances (like certain mushrooms species) that help our bodies manage stress and restore balance, this stable state is known as homeostasis.

Today, adaptogens are commonly consumed as supplements and herbal products, such as capsules, powders and tinctures.

Their main purpose is to help balance, restore and protect the body. They are used as part of a “phytotherapy” approach to healing, which refers to the use of plants for their therapeutic abilities.

All kinds of stress, be it physical, emotional, hormonal, and even things we eat or drink effects the body’s delicate system. Experts believe that adaptogens interact with the hypothalamic-pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis which initiates your body’s stress response and plays a significant role in keeping your body in balance.

According to the original definition, adaptogens had to meet three criteria:

  1. They must be non-specific and help the body in various adverse conditions, such as physical or environmental stress.
  2. They must counter the physical impact of stress.
  3. They must not harm the usual working of the body.

Adaptogens work by affecting certain body tissues and organs to reduce stress and fatigue and restore the body’s natural balance, especially when you’re under pressure, According to research, they can “non-specifically enhance the resistance of the human body under a wide range of external circumstances.” Basically, they can give you a boost when things get tough.

Some research shows adaptogens can combat fatigue, enhance mental performance, ease depression and anxiety, and help you thrive rather than just muddle through.

Of course, adaptogens are not a silver bullet for anyone suffering from chronic stress, but they can be helpful as an added supplement to other positive lifestyle habits.



Ashwagandha’s scientific name (Withania somnifera) provides a clue to its sleep-inducing properties – “somnifera” means “sleep-carrying” in Latin.

In a meta-analysis of five randomized controlled trials with 400 participants, ashwagandha extract significantly improved overall sleep – notably in adults diagnosed with insomnia who used ashwagandha for 8-weeks or more.


Rhodiola rosea, also known as rosenroot, boasts saponins as the primary bioactive component.

In a pilot study of 10 people with generalized anxiety disorder, supplementing with 340mg of Rhodiola rosea extract for ten weeks led to significant improvements in scores on the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale, which measures both mental and physical symptoms of anxiety, including tension, insomnia, depressed mood, chest pressure, gastrointestinal symptoms, restlessness, and rapid heart rate.


Valerian root may impact sleep by acting directly on the brain, altering brain connectivity in response to stimulation, stress, or anxiety. 

This adaptogen also contains small amounts of GABA, a neurotransmitter that slows brain activity to promote relaxation, and affects serotonin receptors, which may cause feelings of calmness to benefit sleep.


Used in Chinese medicine, astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) is known to boost immunity and potentially buffer the effects of stress.

Studies suggest that because astragalus is rich in polysaccharides, flavonoid compounds, saponin compounds, alkaloids and other protective chemicals, it has the potential to treat various ailments, including many that affect the immune system. 


One reason holy basil may be effective in improving stress response is the presence of three phytochemical compounds. The first two, ocimumosides A and B, have been identified as anti-stress compounds and may lower blood corticosterone (another stress hormone).

The third, 4-allyl-1-O-beta-D-glucopyronosyl-2-hydroxybenzene (SAY WHAT???), is also able to lower stress parameters in lab studies.


Also referred to as the “mushroom of immortality,” reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) exhibits potent anti-inflammatory and stress-relieving properties, which can be beneficial for supporting sleep and relaxation. 

A  study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that three days of Reishi mushroom use “significantly increased total sleep time and non-rapid eye movement sleep” in test subjects. 


Cordyceps have been observed for their impacts on cortisol levels and oxidative stress. For example, a 2006 trial involving the use of a powdered cordyceps supplement found that sedentary adult males had better regulated cortisol levels after exercise-induced stress and that the supplement had anti-fatigue qualities.


Turmeric root (Curcuma longa) is a plant commonly used in cooking as a spice, it’s also a natural remedy for reducing inflammation and boosting brain function. Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric responsible for so many of its benefits.

Why is turmeric an adaptogen? Certain studies suggest that it may be effective in reducing depression symptoms due to the way curcumin impacts neurotransmitter function through the brain-derived neurotrophic factor.


Adapatogens are supplemental, and not recommended for long term use, always check with a health or supplement expert which adaptogen is suitable for you, taking into account chronic medication, pregnancy, or breastfeeding.

More human clinical trials are needed to fully understand how effective adaptogens are at helping reduce stress and improve health issues, but promising research shows adaptogens can help anxiety, fatigue, sleep, and immune health.